Widgets Magazine


Letter: ROTC as a civil rights issue

Dear Editor,

There is an unfortunate and embarrassing tendency in some corners of American politics for the slogans of the civil rights movement to be employed in service of almost any political goal. This is usually done by those who still don’t really understand the legal and moral basis of the movement, and their rationale is that “everyone thinks those slogans stand for irrefutable moral truths, so if we say that those slogans support our position, people will feel obliged to agree with us.”

A truly surprising and disgusting example of this sophistry was witnessed by all those who were present at the town hall meeting regarding ROTC last Tuesday. Incomprehensibly, the terms “separate but equal” and “busing” were used as part of an argument for ROTC’s return. It was also suggested that military-connected people are a “minority” and that the University should provide them with a “safe space on campus.” So as to avoid casting aspersions on all students who argued in support of ROTC, I should point out that a number of pro-ROTC students were shaking their heads in confusion and embarrassment while these arguments were being made.

The heart of the matter, if it even needs clarification, is that joining ROTC is an occupational decision. “Military-connectedness” is qualitatively different to “race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, [or] gender identity” (quoting from Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy) in the same way that “Google-connectedness” (i.e., being a former, current or future Google employee) is qualitatively different. The U.S. military is an employer. You may think it is the greatest employer on the face of the earth or you may think it is repugnant, but neither viewpoint is necessarily relevant to the question at hand: whether Stanford University, as an institution, should treat the U.S. military any differently from the way it treats other employers.

In effect, what those supporting ROTC’s return are arguing for is positive discrimination (in other words, “affirmative action”) on the basis of undergraduate students’ occupational decisions. When asked why all non-military employers located a similar distance from campus should not also be provided with on-campus facilities, the only way to defend ROTC’s return is to argue that Stanford should differentiate between military service and other types of employment in a way that defines military service as necessarily superior.

The argument that Stanford’s undergraduate students currently have convenient access to every possible occupational opportunity other than the U.S. military, and that ROTC should be brought back to campus in order to rectify this “inequality,” has an obvious flaw: Stanford’s students do not have convenient access to anything close to every occupational opportunity, and it would be impossible for the University to make it so. As the majority of the 1969 Ad Hoc Committee on ROTC recognized, Stanford cannot be all things to all people and, as a result, the provision of facilities in support of one group of students’ occupational decisions would constitute an institutional preference for that occupation above all others.

Sam Windley LL.M. ‘11

President, Stanford Says No to War

  • norotc12

    Excellent points!

    You bring up something I hadn’t even been thinking of–the ‘space’ issue. I had previously thought that ROTC supporters simply wanted a return of the program, but are they asking or hoping for actual building space on campus? Just in reading a few Daily articles about construction at Stanford, my impression is that Stanford has precious little space on main campus, which is being reserved for things like academic expansion (e.g. new biz school), community facilities (e.g. a new gym), and student housing (e.g. at the driving range area). I really don’t think Stanford can afford to waste space on ROTC, especially not when there are so many valid arguments against it.

  • Well…

    It becomes a civil rights issue when you consider the fact that we are willing and welcoming to the decision makers, ie. Condoleeza Rice, Bill Clinton, etc, who actually decide whether or not our fine men and women go to war or not, come to campus, but we aren’t willing to actually support the people on the ground. Those people serving on the ground are not simply disproportionately from poor families, they are almost ENTIRELY from poor families. So saying that we are somehow too good to have ROTC on this campus, that Stanford has no connection to our military actions when we are all too happy to invite the elites who don’t serve but decide who does, accept defense spending, work for the State Department, etc is a serious issue. We should have Stanford students serving in the military and we should support the few who choose to do that, if for no other reason then the fact that we should have a connection to the people that one of us is going to send to die someday.

  • Sam

    The cruelest irony, of course, is that ROTC is actually a civil rights issue. Transgender students are forbidden from participating in ROTC, and if an ROTC facility was to come to Stanford it would bring that discriminatory policy onto our campus. If Stanford is to be a safe haven from discrimination on the basis of “race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other characteristic protected by applicable law” (as Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy claims it is), then we have no choice but to reject the return of ROTC.

  • oppressorsbeware

    The comment by “Well…” is factually inaccurate: the economic background of U.S. military service members is NOT disproportionately poor. In fact, it is strongly middle-class, and has disproportionately FEWER enlisted personnel from poor and urban backgrounds and relatively more from wealthy, suburban backgrounds (yes, this is true for enlisted and not just officer ranks). Additionally, U.S. military personnel among the enlisted ranks are better educated than their peers.

  • RE: oppressorsbeware

    You misunderstand me, the troops are generally better educated then their peers, they should be, they tend to be the cream of crop of working and middle class kids. They are not however very likely to be from similar backgrounds to our Stanford peers. And what is “middle class” at Stanford is not “middle class” in America (note that Stanford designates low income as coming from a household making less than 60 grand a year, which is above the median income). Stanford students, in general, have very few friends and peers serving in the armed forces, are very unlikely to interact with people in the armed services, which means that my point still stands.

    For a lot of working class kids the closest thing they get to a college counselor is their local recruiters and the military is happy to pay for the education of these kids, which I know is major motivator for them to join the military, both working class and middle class kids see it as a way to pay for college. The fact that we have so few veterans on this campus and that so few of my Stanford peers have actually interacted with members of the military (I went to a high school where half of my male peers and a significant portion of my female peers joined the armed services, while only a few of us went straight to college, how many Stanford students can say the same?) is a problem because like or not we are leaders and someday one of us will be involved in making a decisions that serious impacts the lives of these people.

  • Also

    I don’t trust those studies.

  • More on Statistics

    There are actually several academic sources with varying degrees of bias that would challenge hertitage.org’s statistics. That isn’t definitive and the issue is highly political, however what I do know is this: the majority of Stanford students do not have the experience of watching most of their peers serve in the military.

    Also to the original article at hand. If the military is just a career, just an employer then what is the objection to giving Stanford students the opportunity to explore that career on our campus? Is Goldman Sachs somehow super ethical? How come they get to recruit here and provide programs for Stanford students? What about the state department? The CIA? We have several students from Singapore who were given scholarships by their government that can be revoked if they switch majors, some of whom served in their nation’s armed forces, should we not allow that to occur on our campus?

    I don’t think that the students in ROTC and the veterans who were present were asking for much, just to allow students the option to do ROTC at their own school and to be respected and not treated with scorn by their peers.

  • Sean

    @Sam “the only way to defend ROTC’s return is to argue that Stanford should differentiate between military service and other types of employment in a way that defines military service as necessarily superior” – yes it is necessarily superior. Joining the military is not like other types of employment. There is a reason it holds special status in our society. You may feel that it does not deserve this special status, and that is fine. But don’t claim that it does not.

    Also @Sam you decry the fact that Transgendered students are still forbidden to participate, and I don’t disagree that this should change. But your fervent anti-war stance would seem to suggest that you would discourage anyone from joining the ROTC and contributing to current operations. So which is it, do you want students to join ROTC or not? If and when Transgendered students are permitted to join the military (currently not a matter of law, but of policy derived from the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which while outmoded is still followed by most Psychologists) if Transgendered students no longer face such a barrier would you embrace ROTC? I think not. You should not deign to support one aspect of ROTC (Transgendered students joining) while rejecting the rest (ROTC’s presence on campus). It is intellectually dishonest.

    @RE:oppressorsbeware “like or not we are leaders and someday one of us will be involved in making a decisions that serious impacts the lives of these people.” You mean like the individuals who actually WILL AND DO lead “these people,” i.e. their ROTC-graduate Officers, currently unwelcome on your campus? Hopefully if and when you do become leaders, you will have gained a thorough understanding of and appreciation for “these people” and those who are charged to lead them. One of the best ways to do that is to get to know your ROTC peers.

  • I’m a law student too

    Sam, military status is a legally protected identity in California.

    From the California Attorney-General’s “civil rights handbook”:
    Chapter 8 – Miscellaneous Anti-Discrimination Statutes
    2.Military and Veterans Code section 394
    makes it a misdemeanor for any person or public official or employee to discriminate against a member of the armed forces because he or she is a member of the armed forces.

    Stanford’s non-discrimination policy “prohibits discrimination … on the basis of … any other characteristic protected by applicable law”. Military status plainly is a “characteristic protected by applicable law”.

    As a fellow law student, Sam, I disagree with your view that the social concepts of civic responsibility and a fair and just society that characterized the civil rights movement can only be applied narrowly to the categories you named. I believe it to be entirely appropriate for Stanford ROTC advocates to apply those much-cherished American concepts toward civil-military social reform at Stanford. However, even within your framing that concepts associated with the civil rights movement can be applied only to legally protected categories, ROTC advocacy meets your criteria because military status is a legally protected category under California and United States anti-discrimination law.

    Sam, thank you: you’ve done a service to Stanford’s ROTC advocates by pointing out that Stanford properly should amend the university’s non-discrimination policy to explicate “military status” as a protected category, just as my undergraduate alma mater, Columbia University, did in 2006. Such amendment would bring Stanford’s non-discrimination policy in better alignment with anti-discrimination law.

  • Jim


    While I agree the line of reasoning drawing parallels between the civil rights movement and the current ROTC debate were strange and confusing, I am struggling to understand the point of this op-ed. I don’t seeing it add much to the current debate.

    The question at the heart of the matter is what kind of relationship does Stanford want to have with the military? The military is not just another employer on par with Google, Cisco, and the like. It’s a national institution and it provides for this nation’s public defense. No other “employer” has that responsibility (though many do contribute … for a profit).

    So, how does Stanford want to engage with that national institution and what kinds of opportunities does it want to provide for its undergraduates? While OCS and post-graduation enlistment do provide opportunities for Stanford students to pursue a career in the military they do not provide other Stanford students the opportunity to learn about the military or interact with students looking to serve. (And on a side note, those programs afford students less opportunity to influence their military occupational specialty and do not provide a nice trail period like ROTC does — things your arguments to date would seem to value). Driving a wedge between students at Stanford and those in the military does not serve to benefit either group.

    Introduction of ROTC classes to the Stanford course catalog, which would be open to all students, would not restrict, but would increase the opportunities available to all students. I struggle to see how that would in any way negatively affect the university or the students.

    At the end of the day, it’s difficult to enter into a serious debate with many in the opposition because almost the entire opposition side is fundamentally against war and “militarism” (however you choose to define that). I think many in these groups are missing the crucial point that most in the military don’t want war any more than they do. Most of those in the military would much rather be at home with their friends and family and out at the clubs, playing sports, or whatever. Most don’t live to get shot at or want death and destruction.

    I have corresponded recently with Paul Chappell, who is the author of the book “Will War Ever End?” and a former captain in the military. He was also a cadre member of mine when I was a plebe at West Point. Something of his was referenced in one of the pieces off your page (or somewhere) and I recognized the name. I asked him about his feelings, now that he was a peace activist, on his feelings about the academy and ROTC. While he was non-committal in his position on ROTC, he said a couple of things that stuck with me. 1) The counter-recruitment movement doesn’t solve the problem of war because it will only serve to strengthen the corporate armies. Blackwater wants nothing more than to see the size of the military shrink. There are more contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq than their are soldiers. 2) At the end of the day, cadets are generally great people, who mean well and those who want pace are generally great people, who mean well. We let illusions prevent meaningful dialog from occurring that blind us from many common goals.

    Looking to inhibit broader engagement with ROTC, continued op-eds that mis-characterize those in the military and mislead those less informed about ROTC programs, and front page stories such as today’s (seriously, losing a domain name is front page news?) do nothing to engage in constructive dialog or look for ways to reach common ground.

    Will ROTC on Stanford lead the a significant increase in the number of cadets or sweeping changes to the military as Stanford-educated students enter the service? Common sense says no. But, if one of those Stanford students becomes a platoon leader and chooses to pass out soccer balls instead of pull triggers whenever possible, if one of those Stanford cadets becomes a company commander and mentors his three lieutenants to seek better solutions, if even one Stanford student who isn’t serving but chose to talk an ROTC course (regardless if for credit or not) comes away with a better understanding of their nation’s military (or that of the country in which they currently reside), then I only see the university, the military, and the individuals all benefiting.

  • I’m a law student too

    Jim: “the line of reasoning drawing parallels between the civil rights movement and the current ROTC debate were strange and confusing”

    Think of it this way: the 20th century civil rights movement is significant more for transforming our country’s society and culture than securing specific legal rights for black people or other identity groups. Similarly, the ROTC movement at Stanford is about more than just improving conditions for ROTC cadets or even gifting more Stanford officers to the military. Recall that the 20th century civil rights movement was so powerful because it was based on essential American ideas that traced back to our founding. In the larger historical arc, Dr King was a latter day founding father whose civil rights movement was a latter stage of the American Revolution, not a revolution unto itself. Unfortunately, Sam mischaracterizes the essential American ideas associated with the civil rights movement when he limits them to a set of identity groups trapped in an adversarial frame.

    You, as an ROTC advocate at Stanford, are engaged in another transformative social-cultural movement. In comparison, your civil-military advocacy goes even deeper in some ways as a bedrock pre-political movement than even American civil rights, because America’s civic relationship with her military pre-dates the nation itself. Without forming our Army first, we could have had no meaningful declaration of independence. Without our Army today, we can maintain no meaningful independence.

    The analogy of the ROTC movement to the 20th century civil rights movement is imperfect and unconventional, so it’s no surprise you found the linkage to be “strange and confusing”. But when groping for an equally profound social-cultural movement as you’re engaged in, there are few choices to be found. I daresay, Jim, you may have underestimated the American heritage you joined when you became a soldier and the depth of the social-cultural movement you’re in today.

  • Sophistry


    Maybe the military students at the town hall meeting weren’t a minority group. Let’s do some math…a couple million active duty military in a country of 300 million. About one percent. Undergraduates in ROTC or prior enlisted; less than two dozen. 24/6600~ one third of a percent. If there were only that many of any group, would they seem a minority? how about 24 boys and 6000 girls at Stanford? Would you deny them a community center? Would you deny them identity centered activities?

    Military service is public service; it goes hand in hand with sacrifice. Google is a great employer to be sure, but the comparison pales when you truly think about where their employees sleep at night-Palo Alto, or on the ground in a hostile country.

    Also, assuming continuity of the University’s policies from the 1970’s until now fails to mean anything philosophically. You complain of sophistry but so far there has been no sound argument presented as to why ROTC does not belong at Stanford, or any university for that matter. Stanford participated in the Spanish-American War only years after the institution was founded, and 2 students died serving. Since then, I would hazard a guess, that a student, staff, or alumni has served in every war our country has been in. (And since then over 400 have died honorably.) You point to the founding documents of the University to claim we should not have ROTC; it is contrary to the academic mission stated therein. So I ask you again-why did they participate wholeheartedly in serving our country before (both in ROTC and the war efforts generally)? Maybe the first president read the document wrong?

  • Vet

    The Army isn’t only an employer. The Army is foundational to the nation.

  • Re: Sean

    You misread my point. I think ROTC should be here because we are going to be leaders and we should have leaders in the military from Stanford as well as grooming civilian leadership that has a connection to the military. I know you are angry, I am too, we are on the same side. Re-read the comments from well…

  • To Jim

    Serious debate isn’t going to happe against a group that responds to “Shouldn’t we be closing the intellectual gap between the military and academia? And isn’t the political accountability of the military being threatened by its increasing intellectual distance from civil society?” with:

    This argument is reminiscent of the well-known quotation: “The function of a citizen and a soldier are inseparable.” The speaker of those words was, of course, Benito Mussolini.

    That’s from Sam Windley’s Stanford Says Not to War website calling you – as a Stanford ROTC advocate – a fascist.

    I understand you were confused by the civil rights comparison, but it’s appropriate: Windley and his group are calling for effective segregation and exclusion of the military from Stanford and shaping the university’s worldview so as to relegate the military to an under-class. Their arguments are not principled. They use whatever means necessary to ban ROTC from what they perceive to be their exclusive fiefdom and to foment opposition to the military.

  • Ted Rudow III,MA

    In “1984,” the state remained perpetually at war against a vague and ever-changing enemy. The war took place largely in the abstract, but it served as a convenient vehicle to fuel hatred, nurture fear and justify the regime’s autocratic practices. Before every war, there’s a long period of mental conditioning and psychological preparation. You never saw how self-righteous nations can get just before a war. So righteous and so convinced that they are right and the other fellow’s the criminal, the devil who needs to be conquered.
    To say these things is practically heresy today, because of the years of propaganda!–All the propaganda they crammed down your throat when you were in school. Nations and people are terrified of terrorism, and many are quite willing to give up all sorts of freedoms — many of the very freedoms we are supposedly “fighting for” — to avoid it. In time of war the first casualty is truth. Sometimes fiction is just as strange as truth.
    “Statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”
    Samuel Clemens

  • average joe

    Ted Rudow III,MA, you provided an excellent description of anti-ROTC strategy.